Bloodborne rolling review

Posted: April 1, 2015 by ryanlecocq in Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Fronsac

You can’t have a beast hunt without chevalier/naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac.

Here we are again with a new From Software ARPG, a little sooner than I’m used to.  The reason is that Dark Souls 2 was really like more of a side-game to the main series, while Bloodborne is the true sequel to Dark Souls.  I know that’s very confusing to most of us, but if you read my history of From Software games article, you know it’s nothing new to randomly release related games with different titles.  A large part of it comes down to the publishing rights once again resting with Sony, where the Dark Souls games were published by Namco Bandai.  So Bloodborne is also a sequel to Demon’s Souls, which Dark Souls technically wasn’t.  Anywho, the point is that Bloodborne is the newest game in the King’s Field/Shadow Tower/Souls series and it is quite fun to play.  In case you were confused or wondering.

As per usual with these games, I’m going to do a rolling review.  It will probably take me roughly a month and several playthroughs to properly ‘complete’ this game.  The rolling review lets you see how I feel about it as I play, rather than just how I feel after finishing it.  So here we go, it’s week 1, the honeymoon as I like to call it.

I hate to liken a really good game to one that was a disappointment, but the largest change in how this game plays reminds me a lot of Fable 3 vs. Fable 2.  The change in time and technology replaces armor and shields with guns, while blocking just isn’t something you do anymore.  This changes the combat completely.  The annoyingly popular trend in the Souls games of people cowering behind a large shield and heavy armor is completely off the table.  Let me just take a break and say:  NOW COME OUT AND FIGHT ME LIKE A GAMER YOU CALLOW SHITS.  Whew, just needed to get that out of my system.  If you are a fan of games like DMC, Castlevania: LoS or God of War, you will feel right at home with the attack-dodge-counterattack rhythm you will find in Bloodborne.  DO NOT get me wrong and think this means the game has been dumbed down to the actiony level of those games (as great as that is in other series).  This is still a grown-up, serious Gothic action game.  None of Dante’s lip or Kratos’ absurd sexual prowess will be replacing the dark tale of you stabbing disgusting monsters in the face.  Just expect a serious change to the give-and-take of combat you’ve become accustomed to in the past 3 games.

I simply can’t say enough about how much I love the atmosphere and new setting.  I hope you’re a fan of HP Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and the movie The Brotherhood of the Wolf, because From Software definitely are.  In fact BotW (or Le Pacte Des Loups in original French release) is probably the largest inspiration for Bloodborne’s setting and I am not complaining.  If you ever wondered who that Cristophe Gans guy was who did the Silent Hill movie, that was his first masterpiece.  BotW is one of my favorite movies ever and makes the perfect setting for a From Software game.  The major difference is that in the movie people end up being the monsters, where in Bloodborne you’re the monster, I’m the monster, we’re all monsters shanking each other over vials of tainted blood.  The game definitely takes the setting and makes it unique, but saying Bloodborne is not heavily inspired by that movie would by blatantly ignorant.  Not at all a bad thing.  I found the outfit that makes me look exactly like Gregoire de Fronsac (one of the heroes of the movie) and rocked it for the entire game so far, stats be damned.  FYI that’s the Yharnam Hunter cap, Hunter jacket and Gasciogne’s gloves and trousers.

So here I am, about 25 hours into the game, just under halfway through the main content.  Most of the bread and butter exploration and combat are similar to what we expect from these games.  Besides the changes to combat mechanics, the overall feel of wandering the cursed streets feels very familiar.  One thing I’m very pleased to report is that the change in visual themes between areas is more like DaS 1 and less like the more bland and similar seeming areas of DaS 2.  Another nice addition is how the world is both interconnected like DaS, but features a safe hub area like Demon’s Souls.  From here you can buy things, upgrade and warp to any area.  There is also the new addition of chalice dungeons. which are miniature adventures that can be customized depending on what consumable items you use when generating the dungeon.  How it works is you get chalice items from defeating bosses, then you place them on an altar in the hub to create a dungeon.  You can combine fairly rare items with it to add unique features to your version of the dungeon.  Others can then join your dungeon and even save it for use later on their own if they like the variant you have created.  While so far these have not been actually randomized like I expected them to be, they can be customized a great deal depending on how many rare items you are willing to burn making them.  I’m sure I’ll have more to report on these later as I try more of them.

The only negatives I have from my experience so far, are actually two old complaints of games past.  Network performance and game engine performance.  It’s somewhat ironic, because Dark Souls 2 almost completely fixed these two issues, while taking backward steps in other areas like challenge.  Bloodborne is right back to where Demon’s and Dark Souls were, featuring random, infuriating drops in framerate and taking as much as 20 minutes to connect to other players.

When it comes to the framerate, I just kind of have to scratch my head.  You see, while Bloodborne has more detailed textures and higher rendering resolution than Dark Souls 2, it doesn’t add any other effects.  In fact, Bloodborne features one less, in that it has NO REAL-TIME SHADOWS.  Look closely, you will see that while objects have ambient occlusion and static shadow maps, light sources like your torch will not cast moving shadows behind objects.  The only real time shadow in the game is on your character in direct sunlight and is a simple ray-traced one like we’ve seen in games since the late 90s.  Since Dark Souls 2 had this as well as all of the above effects, it’s confusing that on superior hardware Bloodborne cannot maintain steady framerates with the same level of effects in play.  It will be interesting to see when Scholar of the First Sin comes out if it just looks and plays vastly superior in every way.  That would be a clear statement that while the From B-Team may lack some storytelling and artistic chops, they are the outright masters of technical design over the main series programmers.

Jollycoop

Always show gratitude.  It only took a miracle to bring the two of us together.

The connection issues are just like we’ve seen before in all games except DaS 2.  You sit there outside a boss room or in an ambush spot for minutes, turning into hours trying to join other players.  It nearly ruins the game sometimes, because your excitement to share the experience with someone else turns into boredom, then frustration, then apathy toward the game.  It’s not enough to stop you from enjoying it, but it adds to the hate side of the love/hate and could be totally avoided with better design.

Those are my initial impressions.  So far I’m just past the spider boss in the main sequence, but have completed all of the side areas and chalice dungeons available so far as well.  So it looks like I’m just under halfway through a typical playthrough.  Should be about a 45-50 hour game at this rate, right in line with the Souls games.

As of 4/1/15.

Conclusion:

I’m actually going to conclude this really quickly.  I honestly stopped playing Bloodborne without even completing it once.  Don’t get me wrong, at its core Bloodborne is a wonderful game.  The problem for me is the online community and how the developers have failed to focus that community.  I’ve been playing these games online from the beginning, so I’ve been present for the entire transition.  Let me break it down for you.  In the beginning, Demon’s Souls was the hardest, most unforgiving game to play, whether on or offline and only the most hardcore players dared to show their faces in network play.  Then after a few years, copies of the game started to become very affordable at Gamestop and members of the casual tweaking and exploit community started to get ahold of it.  What began as people using rolls and clipping errors to make quick speed runs turned into people finding ways to sabotage the gameplay of others in often hilarious ways.  At first, it was for the most part good and added to the challenge and spirit of the experience.

Then as the series progressed, the development cycles became shorter and the glitches available for exploiting increased.  Now pay attention, because this is where I hold From Software responsible.  Rather than keep a tighter reign on exploitable bugs, From chose to instead make certain parts of the gameplay more arbitrarily difficult on the assumption that players would be using some exploits to overpower their characters.  Furthermore, some of these exploits appear more and more to be put in intentionally.  It’s hard to imagine how some of the duping and farming methods could be missed in testing.  The effect this had on the community was devastating.  It was like an “ollie-ollie-oxen-free” call to the exploit community to infest this series.  Where it used to be just mildly annoying in a very Souls way to encounter some dick with totally tweaked gear who just trolls a certain spot, now it’s people who join your game only to cause a bug that forces you to restart.  Where once it was only a couple of the people who joined you that were overpowered, now every single cooperator will hop in with the same exploit weapon and one-hit your boss, ruining the experience for you.  I’m exaggerating a little bit, but by and large there appears to have been a massive loss of hardcore players in favor of people only interested in ruining the experience of others.

The other factor that makes the above unbearable for me is the regression in network setup and loading times.  While a recent patch improved loading somewhat, I cannot even describe to a non-player how frustrating it is to sit for 20 minutes trying to summon someone, only to have someone invade, glitch your game and then you have to restart and wait through more 30 second to 1 minute loading screens.  This is what playing Bloodborne is like if you want to play with other people.  It’s really odd because Dark Souls 2 had both quick network connections and faster loading times.  Bloodborne regresses on both to about the level of the original Demon’s Souls.  When you add this to all the players who have way too much time and not enough maturity, you get the experience I describe above.

So to summarize, Bloodborne is a wonderful game that is held back by the online experience.  The online experience that I feel is necessary to play the game.  If you play a game in this series alone, you aren’t getting much more than a really fancy looking roguelike.  To really understand how much fun these games can be, you have to share it with other people, both friend and foe.  That fun has been mostly tainted by a large group of players who aren’t interested in a challenge.  These players are the same people who would hang out next to the quest giver of some essential class quest in World of Warcraft and endlessly shank them for days until a high level player of your faction noticed them and put a stop to it.  Or the people that find a spot to get behind the wall and snipe you in Counterstrike and are somehow entertained by this for months or even years.  This is the fall of this series for me.  I’m sure I will pick it up again 6 months from now and all of this will be fixed.  I’ll have a great time playing and wonder why I ever felt the way I feel now.  But I also won’t likely buy the next game when it launches.  I’ll wait for it to hit the bargain bin and then play it, hopefully after all the jerks have moved on.  If enough players feel the same way, it will hurt the important day 1 figures of the games which is really too bad, since the core game is still so good.

Gameplay: 9/10   Online Experience: 4/10

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